Roger and Me

I was somewhat taken back by Ben Waterhouse's comments on my recently premiered play,

Roger and the Cave Monster

. What I find confusing and, frankly, troubling, is the implication that my play makes fun of autism.  

The remark is baffling as the play deals in no way with autism, features no autistic characters, and makes no reference to the condition one way or the other. The remark is offensive as I am a young man who spent much of my youth caring for a family member who actually did suffer from a severe mental disorder, and I do not take lightly being accused of making fun of a mental condition.

What the play does feature is a feral child; a person who grew up in a wilderness environment and reached adulthood without having learned a language. Mr. Waterhouse's remarks seem to indicate that he believes the play makes fun of her. Perhaps this is because much of the play's conflict revolves around another character, Dave, and his antagonistic relationship with her. Dave does make fun of the feral child; worse, he is—at the climax of Act One—carelessly cavalier about her wellbeing. Dave is also clearly the play's antagonist. To interpret him as being mouthpiece to the author's thoughts is as foolish as interpreting Polonius' remarks as being the wisdom of Shakespeare; both Dave and Polonius are their story's fool. The feral child, by contrast, is a creature of abundant warmth and wonder. The play (and its author) regard her with awe and love, as we see mirrored in the thoughts and actions of Roger, the play's protagonist.

Irrespective of all this, however, the fact still remains that the play does not talk about autism, has no autistic

character, and in no way makes fun of the condition.  

It is unfortunate that Mr. Waterhouse's skewed perspective caused him to so woefully misinterpret the heart and soul of my play. It is my strong belief that the role of the artist is to approach the world with love, with compassion, and with reverence; as JD Salinger learned from his brother, a writer cannot write successfully when he is in moral judgment of his characters. These are my guiding principals as a writer. It hurts my heart to see a writer as talented as Mr. Waterhouse write such irresponsibly careless and cavalier words about both me and my play.

With respect and kind regards,

Craig Jessen

Autistic Types

As the sister of an autistic young man, and a theatre artist, I can honestly say that the only thing I found offensive about Portland Ensemble Theatre Company's

Roger and the Cave Monster

was your review of it. When you say that the play makes fun of autism, just what in the play represents autism for you? Is it the young cave-dwelling woman who never learned to speak properly? Or her timid rescuer who wore a fanny pack in high school? Is it the perpetually angry brother, or the blessedly normal school teacher? Or is it the cranky, backgammon-playing homeless person?

Real journalists make a habit of checking their stories before printing their thoughts, and you might benefit from their example.

Kathryn Michel

Ben Waterhouse responds: While the play makes no mention of autism, the way the wild-child character is directed implies, through gestures and speech patterns, that she is autistic. Although I suspect that wasn't the intent of anyone involved, it was the impression I walked away with. I don't speak from total ignorance here: I have an autistic cousin.

I stand firmly by my comment about the show resembling Two and a Half Men.

Warming Shot

I have just read Mr. McKibben's long article on Kyoto ["Ten Years After,"


, Dec. 5]. His references to my comments and activities in Kyoto are pure fiction. The fact of the matter is that few of the Kyoto signatories will meet their obligations and the most notable, the U.K. and Germany, will only meet theirs, if they do, by actions that had nothing to do with climate change.

Mr. McKibben should explain to your readers how the U.S. and the world can reduce energy use sufficiently to make the drastic cuts in emissions he advocates while accommodating economic and population growth and helping 1.6 billion people gain access to electricity and get out of devastating poverty.

Rhetoric is easy; tough but realistic actions are not.

William O'Keefe
Providence Forge, Va.